I recently stayed at a little cottage outside Stratford on Avon. The landlords, a couple in their seventies, had invited me to dinner, along with a husband and wife living in another cottage on the property. Since I was the only "furriner," and the English are exceedingly polite, the conversation consisted of me being asked questions about Canada. Questions I felt uncomfortable answering.
I still get a little anxious when I think of that evening. Subject to their very civilized grilling, I did not do well. I felt as if I was being asked to defend Canada - and I couldn't. It's not that I don't care about my country, it just seemed so...I don't know...."American" to go on about it. Canadians aren't like that. We don't go about pounding our chests and spilling intimate secrets about our relationships with our country. It's like bragging about what you do in the bedroom or what you have in your bank account - it just seems so... arrogant. And we aren't arrogant. We're hard working, and reasonable, we like a chuckle, but we aren't slapstick. We go about life not causing a fuss. We're nice.
But maybe we shouldn't be. You just have to open a newspaper or turn on the news to wonder whether being nice is part of the reason we are in trouble. Maybe being nice has allowed the idiots to take control of the remote. Maybe eating our required two veg for dinner, sitting quietly in our living rooms with the drapes drawn, the temperate at 68°, and watching Rick Mercer gently poke fun at our politicians, before going to bed by 10:30 p.m., isn't enough.
I know it's not popular in Canada to say something flattering about Americans, but maybe we need a little of their passion. A smidgen of their fire. We need to figure out how to say "no," and "that's enough" and "you've gone too far."
We need to exercise our democratic rights - even if it first means figuring out what they are. It's okay to be considerate; it allows us to listen to every side of a debate. But if we disagree, if actions taken by those who are supposed to be in charge isn't making our community, our province, our country a better place to live, we have to be heard.
It might mean writing a letter, or sending an email. Attending a meeting. Complaining face-to-face. Signing a petition. Asking for help. Bringing opposing sides together. Marching in the street. Joining a group. Asking to speak to the supervisor, the manager, the Grand Poobah in charge. Naming names and raising expectations.
I know it doesn't feel "Canadian." It's unsettling, and loud, and sucks up your energy. But I think it's necessary. I believe we are at the point where nice isn't enough. We don't have to become the opposite of what we are, but all of what we are. We live in one of the finest democracies in the world. We are admired, even envied, by people everywhere; that's why they are so determined to come here. We had to be tough to build this country; I think we require some toughness now. We need to be clear about what it is at stake, and what we are prepared to defend. We have to talk about, complain about, shout about what our community and country mean to us.
It might feel good to be nice, but it's even better to be heard.